After many years of trying (in vain) to achieve a Sub 3 marathon, I kept asking myself: “How on earth do you run a marathon in 2 hours and 59 minutes or less?”. First I checked what are the main recommendations on Cloud259, where elite runners shed light on this. Then, I also asked runners on the FB group “Sub 3 Marathon“.
Many people responded to my question, many, many thanks for this!
Here we go!
A recurring piece of advise is to train often and a lot at marathon pace, even if that means very intensive training sessions.
TIP 1 – “Practice your race pace. Once or twice a week, you should be hitting that pace for at least a few miles. You can incorporate it into workouts, 8 x 1 mile at race pace or 4 x 2 miles at race pace. Try to throw in some miles at marathon pace within the long run too!”
In the Sub 3 Marathon FB group, Dave added: “It is all about specificity: gradually extend the duration of your long runs at around MP (Marathon Pace). This may take one year or even two years, but when you are comfortable running around 18-20m at sub 7 pace in a build up, you are ready to crack 3 hours!”
In addition to this, “diversity” was often quoted as an important element:
“Diversity. Focus on speed until you run 39 min / 10 k, so that marathon pace feels slow. Create diversity in everything you do. More mileage = not higher chance to sub 3. 80 k per week is more than enough. Better to run 4 days a week good, than 6 days a week average. Mix between speed, threshold, long run, flow runs” (Christiaan)
Last point, many readers referred to consistency.
So, nice weather or bad weather, get moving & do your training sessions consistently, whether you have a good day or a bad day.
2. Mental Strength
In previous marathons I assumed that “Breaking 3” is a kind of mission impossible. Elite runners advise turning that around:
“Assume that you will break 3. Go about it as if there is no chance that you are not going to reach your goal . Visualize how this race will play out perfectly well!”
Bringing us to Tip 2:
TIP 2 – “Smile at the pain”. Have confidence in the outcome: “When chasing a time goal, there’s a lot of pressure. Don’t worry about the pace and go with the flow of the race. Have faith and confidence in the hard work that you’ve done!”
Many Sub 3 runners confirmed, this is a mental game.
As such, it may be a good tactic to break up the marathon in smaller chunks:
“Break up the distance into manageable chunks, and increase the pace ever so slightly for each chunk. My favorite chunk distances are 3, 5, 7, 4, 3, 2, 2.2. (i.e. in Miles). Then only concentrate on the chunk you are in, never beyond. First 3 miles are the warmup and should be the slowest. I carry a small piece of paper with me with chunks and paces. For my first sub-3, my target time was 2:59:20, and I got 2:59:21 !” (Pollard)
After all the sweat and tears, and with enough self-confidence, it is race-day!
3. The race
One of the elite runners came up with this remarkable idea, to run according to a 10-10-10 plan:
“Follow the 10-10-10 plan . The first 10 miles should feel almost effortless. From 10 miles on you’re putting more effort in, but saving everything for the final 10 km. For a 3:00 goal, aim for 6:55 pace the first 10 miles, 6:50 the second 10 miles, and 6:45 the last 10K.”
In a similar way, some Sub 3 runners made a distinction between the first 20 Miles, and the remainder:
TIP 3 – “Run the first 20 Miles, then race to the finish!” (Anthony & Greg)
Stephen added a comment on the fuel strategy: “Also, do the fueling right. I had gel at start then every half hour. Didn’t fancy the last one as I felt full, but don’t let your body feel under-fueled at any point. Drink a lot of water the day before, so your sweat tastes neutral, not salty at all”.
Finally, Bill added an important point on course knowledge: “Course knowledge is important. Especially if it is a course with many turns and / or winding sections. Know the tangents – advice given often but I struggle with this one, especially in the later part of marathons. Distance added by not running the tangents can add up. Do your best to minimize ‘bonus’ distance.”
4. Strength Training
Strength training seems necessary, when going after a Sub 3 result.
One of the elite runners sums it up well:
TIP 4 – “Do the stuff that you hate!” 🙂
It’s the little things that matter: “Remember the little things besides getting your workouts everyday. Make sure you recover enough, eat enough, drink enough, do your stretches, and keep up your core ”.
For the non-professional runner, it is definitely a big challenge, to find the right run/life balance. Consistency is key (as mentioned above), but still, you need to combine running with the other things that matter, in life: “In terms of run/life balance, don’t force it where it doesn’t fit. Fit in the workout when you know you can get it done”.
Also, the training schedule needs to be balanced, and this links to recovery:
TIP 5 – “Focus on recovery. Cup. There’s no such thing as over-training, just under-recovering.”
Finally, we move on to point 6, a sensitive matter! 🙂
6. Weight loss
Quite some members in the FB group referred to the importance of weight loss.
David: “My last sub 3 (pre 2021) was in September 2015, when I was 48. This year lost a stone in 3 months, and I’ve done 3 sub 3 marathons, aged 53….!”
TIP 6 – “The lighter you are, the faster you run with no extra training. Simple physics!”
Unfortunately, this one is easier said than done. As Ches reports:
“For the proponents of weight loss, try as I might, I can’t drop below 185 lbs (84kg). I’m 6’ tall (182cm). My PB was 3:00:51 and my average weekly mileage was around 62 miles (100km). So what deserves more emphasis: mileage or weight loss? (…) For 5 years, 185 lbs has been the wall I can’t bust through!”
Comes race-day, elite runners recommend: “Don’t lose hope. And pray”
Many points above are easier said than done. Clearly, running a Sub 3 marathon is a big task to achieve, it requires all the dedication & preparating/mastering ‘t points mentioned above.
A big thank you for all the feedback I received on this … !
To everyone, have a nice weekend & enjoy the long training 🙂
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